What is your current job role and what does this typically involve?
Since 2011 when I left policing I have been busy building a new consultancy career across a range of business enterprises, and in working with a number of professional associations. So I guess you might call me an entrepreneur…someone who sees opportunities to utilise a broad range of skills in guiding and developing new start ups and growing businesses. This work has seen me involved as an executive coach and leadership mentor to leaders in secondary education at home in Wales. My role is to develop teachers’ leadership skills as they move into new managerial posts. I have started a small training company with 2 other directors developing new training in the private investigations sector aimed at developing a CPD training market for investigators working in this industry. I have been instrumental in starting a new training academy for the Association of British Investigators that is the conduit for this work. I am a volunteer with the Prince’s Trust in Wales teaching young people business start up skills and giving pro bono coaching support to the executive team. Last but not least I am a founding Director at the Forensic and Policing Services Association which we launched at the Forensics Europe Expo in London in 2013.
Could you tell us a little more about the work of the Forensic and Policing Services Association (FAPSA)?
FAPSA was set up to promote the interests of sole traders and SME’s working in the forensic science market. It is a not for profit member services association that works to foster collaboration in forensic science and the forensic market between small businesses, academia, and the police. Our membership has grown considerably in the past two years and we have member companies from around the UK and Europe, as well as police forces, involved in the association. Our main drivers are two-fold. The first is to encourage success through collaboration by providing members with opportunities to work together and develop new products and services that the market and the justice system will benefit from. The second is to engage in building a development pathway for small businesses to achieve appropriate compliance in ISO standards 17020 or 17025. In 2014 the Home Office forensic science regulator asked FAPSA to set up a standards working group to look at this and I was appointed to Chair it. In the past year we have brought the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences into our working group and together with their expertise and ours we are moving forward with this work. FAPSA influence is growing. We have set up a Fingermarks Visualisation Collaborative Exercise Group (FVCEG) at the request of Police Scotland and other police forces to assist in administering competency testing and peer review for fingermark development laboratories and we are collaborating on new work with the European Division of the International Association of Identification (IAI).
You have quite an interesting and varied professional background. How did you particularly come to be involved in forensic science?
Back in 1997 my boss at South Wales Police asked me as a newly appointed senior detective to review the workings and the service provided to criminal investigation by the Scientific Support Department. As a consequence I became the force scientific support manager. I was lucky to be involved at a time when forensic science to policing was beginning to take on great significance as crime rates were growing and investment in services like DNA Expansion were being driven by central government. I was able to secure investment to build a state of the art scientific services building at force HQ, and had great fun in working with HMIC on the “Under the Microscope” inspection that would change the emphasis and focus by police forces in supporting forensic services. It was a great time which I was able to repeat on transferring to British Transport Police, and this led to my being appointed to the Forensic Science Service as their Major Crime and Critical Incidents consultant and then to moving to Thames Valley as their Director of Regional Forensic Services for TVP, Hampshire, Sussex and Surrey police forces.
In your opinion, what have been the biggest changes in forensic science in the UK in recent years?
Without doubt for me it is the collapse of the UK Forensic Science Service. The knock-on effect and ramifications of this are still being felt and will continue for some years to come. The other big forensic science providers in the private sector that pledged to plug the gap have struggled as police forces have seized the initiative and set up their own in-house laboratories and significantly cut their costs. This has shrunk the external market to the extent that there is a real danger that independent providers will pull out and leave the justice system in a right old mess.
What do you think the future holds for forensic science in the UK?
I think the future is in our hands but needs strong pro active intervention. The UK Government needs to think again about leaving everything entirely to market forces. A level of government subsidy to encourage market stimulation and growth could be part of the answer as well as strong legislated regulation to absolutely require and ensure that small businesses and police forces gain ISO standards accreditation and maintain them. I have witnessed first-hand from research in the USA about the growth of junk science and miscarriages of justice experienced as a consequence of policing and forensic science being too closely aligned. We do not want this here in the UK and there is, in my view, a real danger of this unless we ensure the maintenance of independent forensic science to the highest quality standards.
Do you have any advice for those aspiring to work within the forensic science sector?
My advice is to think very carefully and balance the traditional route into forensic science through working with an established forensic provider, with the opportunities provided by working in the police service. We all know that recruitment remains slow so if you want to get into it forensic science I would suggest you work to achieve the best qualifications you can and then look at the market and develop a niche specialism that will guarantee you work!
If you’re a forensic scientist (academic or industry) or a crime scene investigator and would like to be part of this series of interviews, get in touch by emailing locardslabblog[at]gmail.com.
This is Part 3 of our series of interviews with forensic professionals.
Interview Series Part 1 – Interview with Forensic Identification Scientist Alexandre Beaudoin
Interview Series Part 2 – Interview with Forensic Expert Robert Green OBE